Monday, August 20, 2007


A friend and I recently read the same novel, Q and A, by Vikas Swarup, a funny and involving and moving story about a young Indian beggar boy who becomes the richest game-show winner in international history, and the two of us, my friend and I, came to slightly different conclusions, or interpretations -- conclusions that, perhaps, are not so different after all, upon a little reflection.

Given that the main character's success in answering correctly the questions asked during the quiz portions of the game show resulted from specific incidents from his own life on the streets and in the slums of India, events that provided him with the knowledge needed to win a shitload of money being offered by greedy television executives who didn't really think that anybody would actually be able to answer these queries, was his success therefore a product of his own cunning, his own ingenuity, his own perceptiveness and memory, or was his ultimate triumph nothing more than the working out of his own particular fate, the destiny that his life had been pointing towards all along?

Here's a word or two on this subject from actor Ben Kingsley (real name Krishna Bahnji) recently interviewed in TIME:

Q: What do you look for in a role?
- Catherine Raymond, Bellingham, Washington

A: I look for the echo inside me. Maybe we're all born with our future coiled up inside of us like a spring, and we just unravel this coiled spring and work it out. I'm sorry if this sounds a bit bizarre. I'm trying so hard not to be pretentious because I'm always called pompous and pretentious.

Well, what's he talking about may sound a little pretentious, in person, through the vessel of his voice, if only because Sir Ben Kingsley's diction and overall bearing is probably a bit more distinguished than yours or mine, but I don't think his ideas are particularly pretentious at all. They're what everybody asks themselves all the time, every day, in the morning while nibbling Corn Flakes or in the evening while washing their hair: Is this where I'm supposed to be? Am I doing what I'm supposed to be doing? Is here the there I once wanted to reach? And if not, how do I get there, and how will I know what it looks like when I arrive? And will I still be able to get fries with that?

There are many times where I'm standing in front a class full of foreigners, teaching, realizing that they're looking at me as the foreigner, and I realize with a startled flash that I started life on Bayshore Drive in St.Catharines, Ontario, and I'm currently halfway around the world in a country I knew nothing about only a few years ago, and I think: "Whoa -- something happened here."

It can seem so random, the places we end up.

And yet, if I look back, I can see how choice A led to path B, and how from trail C I ended up in valley D. There is a link, and, whether it's random or not, preordained or not, here I am. In this place. At this time. Perhaps the best question is not 'how did I get here' but 'where do I go from here?'

I'm inclined (or would desperately like) to believe that destiny and chance are intertwined, that we do, in the memorable words of Ben Kingsley, look for the echo inside of ourselves, and long, our whole lives, to seek out its original source, its initial shout, its preliminary whisper, its hushed murmur. (Its affirmation of existence, if only in a sigh.)

At the same time, after recently reading a few books recently on evolutionary biology, and a concept called consilience -- the intertwined nature of the arts, sciences and humanities -- I'm beginning to believe that perhaps, just perhaps, we, meaning humans, truly are simply accidental evolutionary byproducts, functioning, intelligent organisms that have developed notions of religion and fate and destiny because, by doing so, it allows us to adapt and understand our place in the universe a little bit better than we would otherwise be able to.

And I keep thinking about all the pathetic people stuck in North Korean concentration camps, or refugees holed up somewhere in the Gaza strip, or children sold through prostitution and living out the remainder of their little lives in a whorehouse on the side of a dusty road somewhere in the backwoods of Cambodia or Laos.

Is that their destiny?

Perhaps we as a thinking species have created these somewhat grandiose concepts of predetermination and existentialism because it allows us to escape from the confines of the 'self' -- that restless, unending state of consciousness that is determined to believe that me, myself and I is a special and unique being. To believe otherwise would be to admit that we are nothing more than arbitrary cogs in an unseen, vaguely understood evolutionary wheel that rotates whether we want it to or not.

And yet, there's always something mysterious and mercurial at the bottom of us, a feeling, a twinge, that I hesitate to label as nothing more than mandatory biological functionings:


When I was a teenager, driving my buddies back and forth to the movies in my dad's car when it was my week for my turn at the wheel, I sometimes would crank up the volume on a silly rap song called 'You Got What I Need', artist unknown, which was already outdated by the time I slipped the tape in the deck but which was perpetually hummable and compulsively hilarious nevertheless. "Oh baby you -- you got what I need/But you say I'm just a friend/You say I'm just a friend/OH BABY YOU..." (Well, it was screamingly funny at the time, at age sixteen, in my car, on a Friday night, with the windows down low, and the spring air warm, and the future stretched out before us like the red carpet of life.) And here I am, a good fifteen years later, and there's a remix of that very same song playing now on the radio here at the Internet cafe, the original song being one I have not heard in well over a decade, and I'm thinking: There's a circle at work here, the circle of my life, and it's an absurd one, a silly one, one that allows for a rap song that was heard at the age of fifteen in southern Ontario to be heard once more in a remix a decade and a half later in the northern Philippines, but irregardless, the circle exists, and it is real, and it rotates, with or without me...

So, which of the three options is it (it being life, and everything in between)?

Is it all random, or preordained, or something in between?

Not a clue.

You tell me.

After all, in the end, it's your call.


It's customary for Korean students in the Philippines to give their teachers small gifts and notes of appreciation when they hightail it back to their homeland, so I thought I'd offer a sample of some of the notes I was given this morning. Along with numerous trinkets, pens and pencil cases, I received the following messages from my group of nine-to-fourteen year olds; the grammar and spelling are not quite stellar, but they did their best, and the sentiment is sincere, and much appreciated, irregardless of the syntax:

Dear. teacher Scott.

Hello! my pronunciation teacher.
You teach me eagerly. so
My English pronunciation is better
than after go here.
Pronunication is very important
Thank you teacher.
You are very funny man.

From your student


Hello, Good morning!
I haven't been
writing a letter to you.
So I feel something strange.
But you're a good teacher
in my phonics class. Also you
are a good teacher because you didn't give me a lot of homework!
Anyway. Thanks for your good
I will
miss you
Bye. See



Teacher Scott
Hi! teacher scott.
thanks for with me.
thank you very much
Scott teacher.
bye, teacher scott!


Dear T.scott

Hello? Teacher. I'm Jeoun. Thank you for teach
me, If I see you again I'm very happy. bye
Teacher, I miss you


Hello! I'm Sky
You are is very god
thank for teachme
bye teacher see you


Dear teacher Scott
Hi. I'm your student Jack Before long
I should go back to Korea I become higher
in pronunciation because of you
If I see you again in Canada. Could you
explain about Canada. I'll miss you.
Bye-bye ^ kind ^ teacher Scott.

from. Jack


Hi, teacher
I am Stella.
I was very glad
to meet you
again. Hahaha
take care!
You are a very
good teacher.
Your pronou-
ciation class was nice!

(accompanied by a drawing of me in a kimono, holding a sword, with the caption: "LEFT-HANDED SAMURAI")


Dear. Teacher Scott

Hi, teacher!!

I'm Liz.

How are you today??

I'm fine.

I miss you.

Bye Bye

From Liz


Dear. Scott.

Hello, Scott. I'm your student, Terry. At first,
I afraid you, because you are the only Canadian teacher
in here. but you are a good teacher for me.
and you are very funny. You gag is gentle,
but very funny. Thank you for teach me,
and I'll miss you.


From. Terry